1. brave the hoards: I have long office hours today
2. independent study discussion time — anyone else deeply interested in talking about Gertrude Stein’s Lifting Belly? Because I am all over that business!
3. grade in preparation of … more grading later in the week
There are days as an instructor when I feel like I need to batten down the hatches, draw in the anchor, and prepare myself for the onslaught of students. It’s not that they’re really the villainous pirates my metaphor calls them, nor that I’m somehow unable to be helpful when they come. It’s not that I don’t have the answers or that I don’t know how to do this part of my job. It’s not even that I’m too tired and bogged down in my own work to feel like an effective teacher (though hey, that’s pretty close to the truth a lot of the time). No, the feeling of “they’re upon me!” comes mostly on days like today: they have the final, graded version of their first paper due tomorrow, so the ones who are coming to see me today either (a) put off their work until the last minute, or (b) are the high achievers who really want to do their best.
So what’s difficult about the conversations I’m undoubtedly going to have all morning is that what I’m being asked to do is add that magic element they think they’re missing. For the ones who didn’t try hard enough, they want me to sprinkle some magic fix-it spell on their rough work that will polish it and turn it into a successful paper. For the ones who have tried really hard, they want me to bless their papers with the mark of a sure-fire A so that they can stop worrying about all the things they don’t know how to fix yet.
I don’t have either of those magic spells at hand. For the first group, the last-minute parade, the difficulty of our conversations will come from my own frustration — why didn’t you start this earlier? Why are you setting yourself up for failure? This is gnawing and grating, but not personally upsetting. It’s the second group, the try-hard-then-try-harder posse, that truly make me sad. Because sometimes, no matter how hard they’ve tried and how badly they want the A, their work just isn’t there yet and won’t get there yet. It takes practice to achieve mastery, you know? And they try so hard that they want that effort to show immediately. When I can’t give them that, I ache for them; I can just see younger-Martina in those same conferences, trying to figure out what the missing element is. She couldn’t understand then, and they won’t understand now, that sometimes, the missing element is just time and practice and the endless process of continuing to move forward.
Hey, when did this become not about teaching but about life?